Monday, October 10, 2011

Ed Feser on the origin of the 'mind-body problem'

My favorite philosopher Ed Feser (except for Aristotle and Aquinas, but Feser would agree) has some sharp insights into many philosophical dilemmas.

Feser:*

...the "mind-body problem" is essentially an artifact of the early modern philosophers' decision to abandon a hylemorphic conception of the world for a mechanistic one, and its notorious intractability is, in the view of Thomists, one of the starkest indications of how deeply mistaken that decision was.
Feser makes an excellent point.

Consider: if modern philosophy finds the mind itself-- the most basic apparatus with which we perceive reality-- a Gordian Knot, perhaps the problem is not with the intractability of the mind itself, but with the inadequacy of the philosophical systems we are using to try to explain it.

Beginning with Descartes in the early modern period philosophers adopted a mechanical view of nature, in contrast with the hylemorphic understanding of nature that had dominated philosophy since Aristotle.

Hylemorphism (hyle- matter, morph- form) is the view that nature is best understood as substance comprised of prime matter and form. Form is what makes a thing intelligible. Matter is what makes it individual.

Change in nature was understood as comprising four causes:

1) Material cause- what something is made of

2) Formal cause- the intelligible principle that makes something what it is

3) Efficient cause- the agent that brings the change about

4) Final cause- the directionality of the change-- the 'to' in 'from--- to'

In the hylemorphic understanding of nature, 'pointedness', which is the idea that something 'refers to' something else, is intrinsic to nature.

The hylemorphic understanding of the mind is that the soul is the form of the body, akin to the form of a rock or the form of a chair. But a form of a living thing is a soul, which has powers. These powers include sensation, intellect, judgement, will, etc.

The mind is a form, but it has a property unlike the forms of objects: it can acquire the form of something else and remain itself. This is what 'thought' is.

When we think about something (say... about a tree in the front yard), the form of the tree is taken in our mind, while the matter (of course) is not. With the form of the tree (technically. the "intelligible principle" ) of the tree in our mind, we can contemplate the tree using our powers of intellect.

The hylemorphic understanding of nature seems alien to us, but it provides a clear and coherent explanation of the mind. As Feser points out, "the mind-body problem" wasn't a problem until early modern philosophers made it a problem.

Philosophy is supposed to solve problems. Modern philosophy too often creates problems.

The modern error was to abandon hylemorphism and to adopt a 'mechanical philosophy'. Mechanical philosophy is the abandonment of formal and final cause-- the abandonment of essences and teleology in nature. Only retained were truncated efficient and material causes.

The problem vis-a-vis the mind is that if one eliminates essences and teleology from nature, then qualia (the subjective experience of sensations) and intentionality (the 'aboutness' of a thought) become inexplicable. If nature is mere matter in motion, the mind must remain unexplained, because matter in motion intrinsically can't explain subjectivity or reference to things in the world.

As Feser has observed, modern philosophers, having abandoned teleology, have explained the apparent directedness of natural processes as a trick of our minds. They've swept teleology under the mental rug. Now, when confronted with the obvious directedness of the mind itself, modern philosophers have no rug left to sweep things under.

There is really no "mind-body problem". There's a 'bad philosophy problem', self-inflicted.

Why have philosophers embraced bad philosophy and cast aside good philosophy? Some of the reason is laziness (scholastic philosophy is hard), and some is ignorance (some very accomplished modern philosophers don't have much genuine knowledge of scholasticism).

But I suspect that there's a deeper reason. All scholastics have been theists. The hylemorphic understanding of nature naturally leads to theism, even to the Christian understanding of God. Aquinas's Five Ways and the Ontological Argument depend critically on a hylemorphic understanding of reality.

Modern philosophy on the mind-body 'problem' is a paradigm of willful ignorance. Many philosophers would rather embrace bad philosophy than venture into a system that points to God.

* from Aquinas p132

84 comments:

  1. hurrrr durrrr god iz real evilution is evil!!1!11!October 10, 2011 at 6:23 AM

    An ID-ist using the words "willful ignorance".

    Hilarious.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Modern philosophy on the mind-body 'problem' is a paradigm of willful ignorance. Many philosophers would rather embrace bad philosophy than venture into a system that points to God."

    No, it's the other way around: you start with your desired conclusion that the Christian God exists, and you embrace bad philosophy to justify your conclusion.

    And why? You're afraid of death and oblivion. You prefer to think that your "purpose" is to spend eternity with Jeebus, as long as you're a good boy and listen to the dictates of the young-boy-dating-club in Rome.

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  3. Oh hurr durrrr durrr, numbnuts and other fundies like yourself start with your desired conclusion that God does not exist, and then embrace just about any crackpot philosophy to justify your conclusion.

    And why? You're afraid of death and oblivion. You prefer to think that your "purpose" is delusional and that this delusion is all there is, as long as you're a cool boy and can watch your kiddy porn and follow whatever mind numbingly other dumb fad there is without any feeling of guilt or moral thought.

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  4. Anonymous,

    If you have to believe that an invisible magical being is watching you to act morally, there is something wrong with you.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Herpy Derpy,
    If you think I think an invisible magical being is watching me or if you are a moral relativist then there is something wrong with you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Michael,

    This thread is certainly shows a lot of imagination, and I mean it in the correct use of the word 'imagination', instead of your bizarre use of the word; 'forming mental images on the basis of sense perceptions, which (the mental images) may or may not be true'.

    There's no evidence that hylemorphic dualism is a valid way of looking at the world (its proponents are just telling a story), there's no evidence that there is a soul independent of the body, there's no evidence that 'essences and teleology in nature' exist.

    "The hylemorphic understanding of nature seems alien to us, but it provides a clear and coherent explanation of the mind. As Feser points out, "the mind-body problem" wasn't a problem until early modern philosophers made it a problem. Philosophy is supposed to solve problems. Modern philosophy too often creates problems".

    Hylemorphic dualism doesn't provide an explanation, it only provides a description. It begs the question by asserting that it solves a problem it assumes to exist. Our knowledge, both in science and philosophy, advances by finding new problems, questions to solve.

    Only a recalcitrant Paleyist would assert that the conclusion one is seeking to prove (there's an Intelligent Designer who created the Universe and everything in it, and is identical to the Christian God, who takes a personal interest in humans, listens to prayers and occasionally grants them, and who appeared to humans thousands of years ago, but not anymore) is the initial premise in the chain of logic.

    There's no mind-body problem. From neuroscience we know that the mind is a product of the brain. The brain does a lot of things that we are completely unaware of. It's the equivalent of a large highly sophisticated biological computer, which has many subroutines running quietly under the surface, making decisions, processing sensory inputs and past memories to make a coherent picture of the outside world, which it then presents to the mind. And the picture may be more or less wrong.

    And no, our computer technology is a long way of simulating the human brain, with its 100 million neurones and vastly greater number of astrocytes which modulate neuronal function.

    Modern computers have the computing power not much better than that of a housefly.

    "My favorite philosopher Ed Feser (except for Aristotle and Aquinas, but Feser would agree) has some sharp insights into many philosophical dilemma's.

    I'm still scratching my head as to what you mean by this confused sentence. Do you mean that Feser would agree that Aristotle and Aquinas are your favourite philosophers? Or do you mean, as you have constructed the sentence, that Feser is Feser's favourite philosopher?

    The way the sentence is constructed makes the most sense. Paleyists aren't averse to claiming that they are smarter than everyone else in the world, that they have solved problems which exist only in their own minds.

    Paleyists such as Michael Behe and William Dembski aren't exactly modest when it comes to self-praise. Irreducible complexity and the Explanatory Filter aren't likely to receive recognition with a Nobel Prize anytime soon, if ever.

    Irreducible complexity was discussed by the 1946 Nobel Prize winning American geneticist Herman Muller decades again, and noted to be not a problem for evolutionary biology. The explanatory filter hasn't been made to work even with Dembski frantically attempting it in many books.

    Sorry, making up problems or harping on problems that have been solved, and pretending that they haven't been solved, isn't convincing.

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  7. Mike,
    I must admit I am just beginning to wrap my mind around Feser's stuff. I have been having a good pour over his blog, and his 'Last Superstition' is in my book club list...so it will get here before Christmas, I hope. So far: Very impressive.
    Thanks again for turning me on to him.

    We have had a lovely Thanksgiving up here this weekend. Lot's of food, family, and fun time. Beautiful weather for it too. Fall colours are out in force now....
    At any rate the Turkey and wine have won the day. Now? A pizza pie and some TV time to top it off.
    I will be back to my regular ranting next week!
    Great post on a fascinating subject!
    Cheers, Mike.

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  8. bach:

    [There's no evidence that hylemorphic dualism is a valid way of looking at the world (its proponents are just telling a story), there's no evidence that there is a soul independent of the body, there's no evidence that 'essences and teleology in nature' exist.]

    Hylemorphic dualism isn't a scientific theory. It's a metaphysical understanding of the mind. It is the understanding that is most consistent with what we know to be true about the mind, and it resolves the most intractable problems of materialism (intentionality, qualia, and the ordering of mental and physical phenomena).

    [Hylemorphic dualism doesn't provide an explanation, it only provides a description.]

    Only God is an explanation. All the rest is description.

    [Our knowledge, both in science and philosophy, advances by finding new problems, questions to solve.]

    Materialism is the cause of new problems, like the mind-body question. Materialism doesn't advance science or philosophy by causing a new problem.

    [Only a recalcitrant Paleyist would assert that the conclusion one is seeking to prove (there's an Intelligent Designer who created the Universe and everything in it, and is identical to the Christian God, who takes a personal interest in humans, listens to prayers and occasionally grants them, and who appeared to humans thousands of years ago, but not anymore) is the initial premise in the chain of logic.]

    I'm not a Paleyist, and I don't know what you're talking about.

    [There's no mind-body problem.]

    You're wrong. The problem is profound. For example, provide a materialistic explanation of intentionality.

    [From neuroscience we know that the mind is a product of the brain.]

    The mind entails powers for which materialism has utterly no explanation. There is no reason to assert that the mind is a "product" of the brain, like bile is the product of the liver.

    [The brain does a lot of things that we are completely unaware of.]

    Duh.

    [It's the equivalent of a large highly sophisticated biological computer, which has many subroutines running quietly under the surface,]

    Aspects of brain function appear to be computational, in the sense that the function of the brain is an algorithm that transforms input to output. Reflexes and physiological homeostasis may be understood in that way.

    Intellect and will are not computational. They are not material entities. They involve intentionality, which is intrinsically not computational, and free will, ditto.

    [making decisions, processing sensory inputs]

    Brains make no decisions. People make decisions.

    (continued)

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  9. (continued)



    [and past memories to make a coherent picture of the outside world, which it then presents to the mind.]

    I thought that you said that 'the mind was the product of the brain'.

    So the brain 'presents' stuff to its... product? But the stuff the brain presents is also its product, so the brain presents products to its products. Good luck with that physiology.

    [And no, our computer technology is a long way of simulating the human brain, with its 100 million neurones and vastly greater number of astrocytes which modulate neuronal function.]

    Intellect and will are not computational. Intentionality and free will are intrinsically non-computational.

    [Modern computers have the computing power not much better than that of a housefly.]

    Non-computational things like intellect and will don't become computational by increasing computational power.



    [Paleyists aren't averse to claiming that they are smarter than everyone else in the world, that they have solved problems which exist only in their own minds.]

    Paleyists are smarter than Darwinists, but I'm not a Paleyist.

    [Irreducible complexity was discussed by the 1946 Nobel Prize winning American geneticist Herman Muller decades again, and noted to be not a problem for evolutionary biology.]

    IC is a profound problem for biology. Its irrelevance is merely stipulated, not demonstrated.

    [The explanatory filter hasn't been made to work even with Dembski frantically attempting it in many books.]

    The explanatory filter is used routinely in many areas of biology. Research in biological warfare, for example. The discovery of weaponized anthrax spores leads to the inference to design, rather than undirected evolution of 'weaponized' spores.

    [Sorry, making up problems or harping on problems that have been solved, and pretending that they haven't been solved, isn't convincing.]

    Challenge: provide me with the evidence-based detailed step by step pathway for the evolution of one biochemical pathway.

    Evidence based, no just-so-stories.

    You say the science is solved. Show me.

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  10. crus:

    Thanks for the comments on Feser. He's brilliant, and he opens a whole world of insight.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

    Mike

    ReplyDelete
  11. Michael,

    Yes, you are a Paleyist. William Paley attempted to prove the existence of a deity by claiming that there is design in nature, and that is exactly what you do.

    And the brain is exactly like a biological computer. A computer, like a brain, has many subroutines running in the background. What is displayed on the screen, like the mind, is a product of the computer (or brain).

    Biochemical pathways have been worked as being evolvable on plausible grounds. Only a Paleyist would insist that every single step has to be worked out in excruciating detail, else the made-up story that a god poofed it into existence is the correct one.

    The Kreb's cycle for examine is virtually common to all extant species, which means that it originated billions of years ago. Only a Paleyist would insist that every step in the cycle has to be described in the way it arose. But we do know that every step is energy generating. They'd occur spontaneously anyway. We know that they catalyzed by the presence of certain metallic ions, particularly ferric/ferrous ions which act as electron donors/acceptors, fixed to crystals, and that many of the extant enzymes catalyzing the biochemical steps are metalloenzymes, with the protein performing a structural role presenting the metallic ions to the reactive molecules.

    You're not evidence based. You're just presenting a 'just so' story, in claiming that your ignorance means that god created what you don't have the slightest idea about.

    Anthrax spores in an envelop means that the envelop was designed. It's a puerile argument to claim that human malevolence implies anything about the natural world.

    You really just don't have a clue. Your comments are just a list of unsupported assertions.

    What makes you assert that increasing computational power won't cause intelligence and will? That's a completely unsupported assertion.

    And what did you mean by your first sentence in your thread? Which one of your possible confused meanings is the intended one?

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  12. @bach:

    [Yes, you are a Paleyist. William Paley attempted to prove the existence of a deity by claiming that there is design in nature, and that is exactly what you do]

    Paley's design argument was based on complexity.

    My argument is that of Aquinas, which is based on teleology, irrespective of complexity.

    The teleological behavior of a single electron in a hydrogen atom is as much proof of God's existence as is the teleological behavior of the genome.

    This is a major debate in the ID/Thomist community. I thought you had some insight into it. My mistake.

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  13. Michael,

    'The teleological behavior of a single electron in a hydrogen atom is as much proof of God's existence as is the teleological behavior of the genome'.

    You're an idiot. Do you mind if I keep a copy of this statement as proof of your foolishness?

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  14. "Only God is an explanation."

    Protip: "goddidit" doesn't explain anything.

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  15. Egnor: The teleological behavior of a single electron in a hydrogen atom is as much proof of God's existence as is the teleological behavior of the genome.

    What is this word salad supposed to mean?

    ReplyDelete
  16. Mike,
    Thanks. It was a nice holiday. May yours be as peaceful and blessed when it arrives. My Mum lived in the States for years, so when she's about we celebrate BOTH Thanksgivings.We even get a Napa valley wine for her (instead of local vintages for our own)..silly and fattening perhaps - but we have a LOT to be Thankful for :P

    @Bach
    'Modern computers have the computing power not much better than that of a housefly"
    Not even close. Our drones are still piloted remotely. They cannot make decisions, have insights, or display any of the intellectual properties of an insect. Before you state that drones are meant to be piloted, or some anti-military remark, just pause and think for a moment about where all that grant money comes from and who gets the working toys FIRST. We would love AI drones and detectors that WORK. The physical aparatus of insects and animals HAVE been emulated for almost 40 years... the MENTAL? No. Not with all the almost limitless budgets, best minds (aware and unaware) working on it, and all the incentive there can possibly be - NOTHING even close. The housefly is still alive and the drones are NOT.

    "You're an idiot. Do you mind if I keep a copy of this statement as proof of your foolishness?"
    Ah... the Atheist cure all. If you do not agree with them or be convinced by their banal arguments, you're an 'idiot'.
    So says the man cowering in Plato's Cave.

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  17. @Oleg,
    "What is this word salad supposed to mean?"
    These tricky little algorithms are what we earthlings refer to as 'sentences'. Perhaps you are used to hieroglyphic or symbolic communications? Telepathic infusion of ideas?
    At any rate when the words are combined in this unique fashion, they are referencing a concept known as teleology. If you look it up, you may decode the meaning of this phrase.
    This is a process we call 'education' on Earth.

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  18. "Protip: "goddidit" doesn't explain anything."
    I thought the little ISM was 'Dog-did-it'?
    Ironically that's exactly what comes to mind when reading this comment!

    ReplyDelete
  19. John Frum is my LordOctober 11, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    crusadeREX,

    All I see when I read your comments is "hurr durr athiets are close minded derp teleology evilution is evil, philosophy religious neurologistry Aquinas, JESUS AKBAR durp materialism."

    Love.

    ReplyDelete
  20. @Derping for dumplings
    They told you that you would go blind. Maybe they were right? No touchy too muchy.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "The teleological behavior of a single electron in a hydrogen atom is as much proof of God's existence as is the teleological behavior of the genome."

    Oh dear, the words "teleological behavior" seem to have created some kind of black hole in the brains of some fundies, causing them to either resort to petty insults (a common trait it seems among fundies) or lose their English comprehension. And it is usually atheists where this phenomena are seen. Perhaps these poor sods have Aspergers as well? Mmm, perhaps we should apply funding for an empirical research program.

    It is easy, you just say "teleological behaviour", monitor the responses and the kind of people responding and we should be able to confirm the hypothesis that:
    The words "teleological behaviour" causes atheists and/or people with Asperger's syndrome to either become uncivilized brutes and/or lose their capability to comprehend the English language.

    ReplyDelete
  22. And if you couple those words with others such as for example "electron" or "neutrino" or "salt" the effect should be even greater.

    I wonder which combination would result in the greatest effect. It may even be possible to damage the person permanently whereby the poor fundie is left in a catatonic state of shouting profanities :).

    Let's test it :D
    1) Teleological behaviour of quarks
    2) Teleological behaviour of gravity
    3) Teleological behaviour of HIV
    4) Teleological behaviour of Einstein

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  23. crusadeREX,

    If you understand this so well, perhaps you can explain to me what "teleological behavior of a single electron in a hydrogen atom" means. Thanks in advance.

    ReplyDelete
  24. crusadeREX:
    Atheists love masturbation - otherwise why would they be atheists?

    ReplyDelete
  25. @oleg:

    [If you understand this so well, perhaps you can explain to me what "teleological behavior of a single electron in a hydrogen atom" means.]

    It means that the electron moves/changes in accordance with natural laws (quantum mechanics).

    Basic stuff.

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  26. Egnor: It means that the electron moves/changes in accordance with natural laws (quantum mechanics).

    That's such a broad definition of "teleological behavior" that I can drive a truck through it. In fact, it is circular. Scientists observed the behavior of electrons and came up with a set of empirical rules (also known as natural laws) summarizing their behavior. To say that electrons obey these laws is a bit tautological.

    It's like noticing that the sun comes up and goes down everyday and declaring that to be "teleological behavior."

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  27. oleg:
    "In fact, it is circular."

    Just like the THEORY of evilution, amirite?

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  28. oleg:

    [Scientists observed the behavior of electrons and came up with a set of empirical rules (also known as natural laws) summarizing their behavior. To say that electrons obey these laws is a bit tautological.]

    There's no tautology. Electrons (and countless other natural things) change in ways that are to some extent predictible. That's teleology. If change weren't predictable, it wouldn't be teleology.

    Aquinas' Fifth Way is a demonstration of God's existence based on the obvious teleology in nature. 'Directedness' of an inanimate object presupposes a Mind.

    Simple logic.

    [It's like noticing that the sun comes up and goes down everyday and declaring that to be "teleological behavior."

    It is teleological behavior. All predictable change in nature is teleological.

    How is it that inanimate objects obey laws? The rational inference is that there is a Mind that grounds change in nature.

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  29. Mike, I'm laughing out loud. You keep yakking about Aristotle and yet you don't even understand that teleology is about final causes. Here we deal with efficient causes.

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  30. Oleg,
    "If you understand this so well, perhaps you can explain to me what "teleological behavior of a single electron in a hydrogen atom" means. Thanks in advance."
    Sure. No problem.
    The term 'Teleological' obviously implies the use or application of that philosophical concept. For example, 'his argument was a teleological one'. The word itself is an adjective describing the position of teleology. The Telos in teleology (is this the question?) is a Greek term describing end purpose. Teleology is an approach that is conscious of function and purpose. A top down approach.
    I assume you understand the use of 'single' - meaning one.
    'Behaviour' is usually a word associated with patterns of expected activity, at least in this context.
    An electron is an atomic component, at least in the current cosmological model. A hydrogen atom is a simple and abundant atomic basis of the element H (Hydrogen).
    So if we put all that together we see the meaning quite clearly: The implicit purpose and function of the electron's behaviour in concert with it's atomic whole - in this case of a simple hydrogen atom.

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  31. @Repent to Dogs

    "Atheists love masturbation - otherwise why would they be atheists?"
    You do not need Atheism to be an intellectually fulfilled Wanker. Rev Wright is a living example of that. Politics and humanism can provide all the material required for a Wanker to feel part of the conversation. No need to rely on delusions of meaninglessness, randomness, and futility. In fact those very factors may actually impair your ability to progress in your....er activity.

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  32. oleg:

    [You keep yakking about Aristotle and yet you don't even understand that teleology is about final causes.]

    Teleology is final cause. It refers merely to the directedness of change in nature. Natural laws are quantified examples of teleology/final cause.

    I don't understand your problem with such a simple concept.

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  33. Mike,
    You wrote to Oleg,
    "I don't understand your problem with such a simple concept."
    I share your confusion with the confusion.
    If I can 'get it', surely these highly cerebral academic folks can?
    At an impasse like this, intuition is the correct blade to cut the Gordian Knot of ignorance.
    My intuition tells me the problem here is that teleology deals with 'why' and not just the less complex and much safer 'how'.
    Purpose and meaning seems to be a real obstacle for hard materialist dogma.
    I suggest this 'why' factor is the 'problem' with the materialist understanding of teleology, quantum theory, and potential. This, I would further suggest, is why discussing the issue results in histrionics and name calling.
    Maybe there is some more technical, mechanical way to word the idea behind teleological philosophy, so the materialists can at least get the gist of what the argument is about? Function, purpose, design maybe...or will they see that as a complexity argument?
    Just an idea, Mike...

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  34. crus:

    Materialists are allergic to all concepts of natural teleology, even though teleology is obvious. Laws of nature are obvious manifestations of teleology/final cause (and also of formal cause).

    They hate it because they think that it means God. I do think that it means God, and Aquinas thought so too. Interestingly, Aristotle did not think that teleology presupposed a supernatural being. He did believe in God, but for other reasons.

    Mike

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  35. @Mike
    >They hate it because they think that it means God.
    >They hate it
    >hate

    Fundies see hatred everywhere. "hurr durr, they don't believe in my invisible deity, them so hateful :(((( durf"

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  36. Shame, the comprehension problems still linger. At least the fundies that have been hit with the "when-I-hear-about-teleology-I-will-insult you" syndrome seem to have been either cured or have been permanently damaged.

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  37. Final cause is just another way of saying the "natural end" of something".

    Teleology can be summarized as follows:
    “Every agent acts for an end” (Summa Theologiae I.44.4)
    An agent can be described in terms of the four causes. Let’s take a rock and gravity as an example.

    From a Scholastic view, gravity has a “standing tendency” or a “second potentiality” or a "first actuality" to certain kinds of behaviour as Aristotle and Aquinas would say.

    Gravity has the potency or power to attract objects of mass with a force proportional to their mass. This potency is derived from what kind of thing it is, its formal cause. It’s potentiality is also “restricted” in a sense by its formal cause, meaning it does not have certain potentialities like for example to push masses away from each other or attract massless objects.

    So gravity is an efficient cause of the rock falling to the ground. The fact that gravity is an efficient cause of the falling rock (actually the attraction of two objects of mass with a force proportional to their mass) entails that generating the effect of the falling rock is the final cause of gravity. “And in general, if there is a regular efficient causal connection between a cause A and an effect B, then generating B is the final cause of A.”

    Gravity can thus be described as follows in hylemorphic terms:
    Material cause of gravity: What does loop quantum gravity or M-theory suggest?
    Efficient cause of gravity: Again, this depends on what physics discover.
    Formal cause cause of gravity: An agent that gives weight to objects of mass and attracts them with a force proportional to their mass.
    Final cause of gravity: Attracts objects of mass with a force proportional to their mass.

    From a Scholastic view we seem to know more about the formal and final causes of gravity than its material and efficient causes. Final causality is still relevant to gravity and it is as a result of immanent and intrinsic properties of gravity.

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  38. Techne:

    Gravity can thus be described as follows in hylemorphic terms:
    Material cause of gravity: What does loop quantum gravity or M-theory suggest?
    Efficient cause of gravity: Again, this depends on what physics discover.
    Formal cause cause of gravity: An agent that gives weight to objects of mass and attracts them with a force proportional to their mass.
    Final cause of gravity: Attracts objects of mass with a force proportional to their mass.


    This is an example of philosophy doing its job: describing "whatever physics discovers" in flowery terms. An architectural detail that bears no load. What did I learn from reading those 6 sentences? I am afraid nothing particularly useful.

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  39. oleg:

    [What did I learn from reading those 6 sentences? I am afraid nothing particularly useful.]

    Sadly, oleg, that's true. But you are better informed.

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  40. @Mike,
    "They hate it because they think that it means God."
    ABG (anything but God) syndrome? Could very well be. That is a very good point. I was suspecting Phasmaphobia. But the two conditions are often linked, I hear.

    @Techne
    Would you equate or relate the final cause of a force such as gravity with defined function or purpose? It seems to me that is the logical inference.


    @Oleg,
    "nothing particularly useful"
    Useful for what, Oleg? Law? Tactics and analysis? Various historical studies such as archaeology? Back engineering? Biological sciences? Chemical engineering? Design and architecture? You know like your load bearing beams...
    Or do you mean in terms of applying meaning to your own existence? Your own final cause, as it were.
    I am not sure what you mean by 'useful'. Would you be kind enough to enlighten us?
    Thanks.

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  41. oleg:
    "This is an example of philosophy doing its job: describing "whatever physics discovers" in flowery terms. An architectural detail that bears no load. What did I learn from reading those 6 sentences? I am afraid nothing particularly useful."

    That depends on your definition of "useful" I guess. If someone does not understand a hylemorphic view, those sentences might be useful in increasing the person's understanding.

    If someone wants to know how gravity works then sure, those sentences are a bit useless. But, I think those sentences are useful for what they where designed for... an attempt to explain a hylemorphic view of gravity and not explain how gravity works.

    And if hylemorphism is compatible with reality then it has done its job. As a system it can be used to answer deeper and more extensive questions of reality via rational enquiry and reasoning. It can be used to understand the more ultimate reasons and causes of things in a way that is compatible with the findings of the special sciences e.g. physics.

    @crusadeREX
    Relate, sure. In the sense that the function or purpose is an intrinsic and inherent "property" of it.

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  42. @Techne and Mike,
    I feel this inference of 'purpose' is the stumbling block / obstacle that the atheists/materialists/positivists/monists on this page keep hitting.
    It is a dead end for them, it seems.
    This function and purpose link could also be very useful in practical terms.
    I know it is in military analysis... but also in terms of medical and scientific research.
    In fact, I am hard pressed to imagine studying any part of a defined system or process without considering the purpose of the whole.
    So Teleology IS useful in a very practical sense, as well as a metaphysical tool.

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  43. @Techne,
    PS
    Please forgive my rather simple/frank language and manner. I am fascinated with these ideas, but I am not a philosophy or physics major. My profession is military and my academic background is in history. Dr Egnor is kind enough to allow me to interact here, and I appreciate that greatly.
    I am a follower/reader of your blog and appreciate any responses, whether or not I may agree.
    Good to see you putting in your tuppence on Egnorance.

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  44. @crusadeREX
    I think you might be onto something there (the purpose=obstacle for some). No need to apologise to me for anything :). I am just a fellow "traveller" on the TT blog.

    Have fun.

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  45. It's not purpose that stumps me. It's the apparent lack of any advantage to describing gravity (or any other physical term) in Aristotelean language.

    To see what I mean, imagine someone describing gravity in Klingon. I am sure it can be done and it would be a fine way to practice Klingon. But what would be the point of doing so from the standpoint of a scientist?

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  46. Oleg, you can apply that logic to the idea of trying to describe phenomena in "mechanistic-materialistic" language. As a "criticism" it is pretty useless. You leave yourself open to the pragmatic retort of "if it works, it works".

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  47. Let's apply that logic, Techne.

    Describing gravity in mathematical terms is not just an exercise in math. It provides a tangible benefit of being able to accurately predict the motion of celestial bodies and spaceships. So physicists learn calculus in order to be able to deal with gravity (and lots of other things) on a quantitative level. Learning differential geometry is also useful to a physicist: it is required for solving problems in general relativity.

    Aristotelean metaphysics? Not so much.

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  48. Oleg,
    Do you mean a Klingon scientist?

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  49. olegt, you keep trying to force philosophy to do the work of physics. A simple category error.

    I can just retort...

    Describing gravity in hylemorphic terms is not just an exercise in philosophy. It provides a tangible benefit of being able to answer deeper and more extensive questions of reality via rational enquiry and reasoning. So philosophers learn Scholasticism in order to be able to deal with the reality of natural ends (and lots of other things) on a logical level. Learning about all the different philosophical systems is also useful to a philosopher: it is required for having a perspective of just how some systems can go wrong.

    If it works it works.

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  50. Techne: Describing gravity in hylemorphic terms is not just an exercise in philosophy. It provides a tangible benefit of being able to answer deeper and more extensive questions of reality via rational enquiry and reasoning.

    Can you be a little more specific about these tangible benefits? I explained what they were in the case of calculus. You didn't.

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  51. Is "being able to answer deeper and more extensive questions of/about reality" a bit vague or are you looking for an empirical prediction?

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  52. Maybe you can point to some specific "deeper and more extensive questions of/about reality" that have been answered using this approach.

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  53. The nature of causality and how it relates to matter or substances.

    The Species problem.

    The problem of identity over time.

    The distinction between time and change. Is it real or merely logical?

    The mind/body problem and how it relates to a specific view of the concept of matter. As pointed out here, it appears to an artefact of the mechanistic-cum-materialistic view of matter. etc etc.

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  54. We're talking gravity, Techne. Remember?

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  55. I thought we moved on to reality, guess I got carried away.

    The mathematical language used to predict the behaviour of substances can help to increase our understanding of the material and efficient causes while a hylemorphic analysis can incorporate those discoveries as well as an analysis of the formal and final causes to give us a better indication of the nature or essence of gravity.

    You have discovered that gravity has a natural end or final cause haven't you? You have learned more about the formal cause and we continue to discover more about gravity's material and efficient causes (empirical sciences can help here), all of which leads to a greater comprehension of the essence or nature of gravity from a hylemorphic point of view.

    For a person only interested in the material and efficient causes, such an analysis might appear unnecessary. For those interested in a more complete analysis, hylemorphism can be useful.

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  56. Techne: You have discovered that gravity has a natural end or final cause haven't you? You have learned more about the formal cause and we continue to discover more about gravity's material and efficient causes (empirical sciences can help here), all of which leads to a greater comprehension of the essence or nature of gravity from a hylemorphic point of view.

    We're going in circles, Techne. Your explanation reduces to scholastic thought inducing a warm and fuzzy feeling in a scholastic stomach.

    I wrote above that application of calculus to physics of gravity has benefits beyond the development of mathematics. Specifically, it allows one to solve Newton's laws of motion for planets and spaceships. So here math provides tangible benefits outside its own domain.

    This is what I have been asking about on this thread as well as on a number of others. How does scholastic analysis benefit other fields of learning? How does the scholastic approach improves our understanding of gravity? I contend that it is akin to translating Newton's laws into Klingon. Aficionados of the dead language get a kick out of it, but no one else notices.

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  57. oleg:

    [I wrote above that application of calculus to physics of gravity has benefits beyond the development of mathematics. Specifically, it allows one to solve Newton's laws of motion for planets and spaceships. So here math provides tangible benefits outside its own domain.
    ...How does scholastic analysis benefit other fields of learning?]

    It's telling that you seem to include only other scientific applications as "other fields of learning".

    Metaphysics, ethics and theology are other fields of learning. Teleology has broad application in many scientific and non-scientific fields.

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  58. Mike,

    Go back to my example and think it through. Calculus is a branch of mathematics. Using calculus to solve problems in gravity benefits not mathematics itself. It benefits a different field of knowledge: physics.

    Techne's application of scholastics to gravity is a pure exercise in scholastics, with no tangible benefit to physics.

    That's my point.

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  59. Mike wrote:
    "Teleology has broad application in many scientific and non-scientific fields."
    One such application is decryption and intel analysis techniques.

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  60. @oleg:

    [Techne's application of scholastics to gravity is a pure exercise in scholastics, with no tangible benefit to physics.]

    If teleology exists in nature, it is physics. Whether or not it helps you with this or that calculation is another matter.

    If you define 'physics' as calculations about nature, you may be able to get by with ignoring teleology.

    If you define 'physics' as the study of nature, teleology is essential, because it is the truth about nature.

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  61. I get the feeling the posts have shifted again. "Outside its on domain" and “benefit other fields of learning” you say.

    Mmm, how about mathematics itself or the principle of causality or the laws of nature?

    Mathematics can benefit physics, biology, economics etc. Physics can benefit biology. So what does mathematics benefit from? Physics? Well, not really. There isn’t any way to empirically test whether mathematics makes sense or not.

    Does mathematics have a foundation in reality or is it all just a mish-mash of imaginary nominalistic nonsense that just happen to make sense to a few apes thinking about imaginary numbers that have no foundation in reality?

    Moderate realism fits quite nicely with the idea that numbers have being with their foundation in reality. Mathematics makes sense in a realist interpretation so it should naturally follow that mathematics will have benefits beyond its domain since it has its foundation in reality. Scholastic realism is beneficial to the view that mathematics has its foundation in reality.

    The concept of causality benefits physics. Some people claim that the principle of causality is violated by quantum mechanics. Scholastic causality is beneficial or it allows you to take the view that the principle of causality does not need to be abandoned when it comes to quantum physics. You can extend that to gravity.

    What are laws? What is the law of gravity? It is from the observation of order in reality that we can describe laws. The scholastic aphorism "As a thing is so it acts: Action is the index of essence" seems to ring true for gravity. If something acts according to its nature or essence then one would expect order in reality and thus laws of nature. The “laws of nature” according to this view is that the laws are the laws of natures or how things act according to their nature (or essences). Scholastic essentialism is beneficial in explaining why we observe order in reality.

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  62. Had a great mind like Aristotle been alive today, he most probably would have laughed at the vague qualitative scholastics approach and would have embraced the modern quantitative approach to science.

    The only reason why some people still hang on to such outdated philosophies is, IMO, because they feel it supports their religious myths.

    As a professional biologist, I am not aware of a single insightful benefit offered by the "scholastic" approach.

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  63. Egnor:

    If teleology exists in nature, it is physics. Whether or not it helps you with this or that calculation is another matter.

    If you define 'physics' as calculations about nature, you may be able to get by with ignoring teleology.


    Mike, don't teach me what physics is. You are neither a physicist, nor a philosopher of science, to make that assessment.

    If you define 'physics' as the study of nature, teleology is essential, because it is the truth about nature.

    How is teleology essential if we do physics without ever relying on it? It's an architectural detail that some might add as an afterthought.

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  64. troy, argument from ignorance much?

    I think someone would take you serious if you argued that not a single insightful benefit CAN EVER be offered by the "scholastic" approach.

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  65. Techne: Mathematics can benefit physics, biology, economics etc. Physics can benefit biology. So what does mathematics benefit from? Physics? Well, not really. There isn’t any way to empirically test whether mathematics makes sense or not.

    This is beside the point. A physics student can learn a variety of subjects outside of his or her discipline. Mathematics would certainly be one of them and I gave a couple of examples illustrating that. Scholastics is not one of them. I am aware of no examples where scholastic thought was essential to the progress of physics.

    This is a simple point that you just can't deny.

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  66. Techne:

    "troy, argument from ignorance much?

    I think someone would take you serious if you argued that not a single insightful benefit CAN EVER be offered by the "scholastic" approach."

    It would be hard to argue a universal negative like that. How about you give a single example of an insight into biology due to the scholastic approach that would not have been achieved otherwise?

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  67. oleg:

    [Mike, don't teach me what physics is. You are neither a physicist, nor a philosopher of science, to make that assessment.]

    If you deny teleology, you're deeply ignorant of physics. The ability to do a calculation is only a small part of physics, and computers can do that. You are very unwise to consign yourself to be a mere calculator, and not to look for a deeper understanding of nature.

    Teleology is real.

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  68. oleg:

    [How is teleology essential if we do physics without ever relying on it? It's an architectural detail that some might add as an afterthought.]

    How is it that you know that the next particle you study will behave in accordance with quantum mechanics? You appropriately assume that it will, because the behavior of nature is teleological in many respects.

    The teleology is so deeply imbedded in the science that you fail to see it because it is taken for granted.

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  69. @troy:

    [How about you give a single example of an insight into biology due to the scholastic approach that would not have been achieved otherwise?]

    The 'scholastic approach' to science-- the application of Aristotelian hylemorphism to the study of nature-- is the indispensable basis for all modern science. The word 'science' itself is anglicized 'scientia', the scholastic latin for knowledge, derived from Aristotle's 'episteme'. The Arisotelian-Scholastic study of nature remains the only system for studying nature to have produced genuine theoretical science.

    Moderns truncated scholasticism (e.g. the reduction of the four causes to material and quasi-efficient causes), and it still works for many things, but the entire foundation of modern science is built on scholasticism.

    Only cultures saturated with scholasticism have given rise to modern science. No scholasticism, no science.

    You're simply don't know the history of science or even the rudiments of the philosophy that gives rise to science.

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  70. Egnor: If you deny teleology, you're deeply ignorant of physics.

    I've heard that assertion but I have yet to see any justification of it. Plenty of people have made great contribution to physics without even knowing the word teleology. Richard Feynman comes to mind.

    The ability to do a calculation is only a small part of physics, and computers can do that.

    You have no idea what you are talking about, Mike. Don't embarrass yourself. Imagine that I would start teaching you what neurosurgery is about. Yeah, it's that funny.

    You are very unwise to consign yourself to be a mere calculator, and not to look for a deeper understanding of nature.

    I actually don't consign myself to being "a calculator." Introduction of new concepts is also on my to-do list. And yes, I do look for a deeper understanding of Nature. It's just that teleology is not particularly helpful in that.

    How is it that you know that the next particle you study will behave in accordance with quantum mechanics? You appropriately assume that it will, because the behavior of nature is teleological in many respects.

    Reproducibility has nothing to do with teleology. Jupiter keeps rotating around the Sun, but that is a mindless repetitive motion whose description does not require knowing any intelligent goals of some imaginary beings.

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  71. @troy:

    [How about you give a single example of an insight into biology due to the scholastic approach that would not have been achieved otherwise?]

    Aristotle was the first biologist. The word "species" and "genus" are scholastic terms. It is impossible to do any biology at all without reference to purpose (the purpose of DNA is to transmit genetic information (in-form-ation is a scholastic concept), the purpose of the ribosome is to make protein, the purpose of ATP is to store and transfer energy, the purpose of the pituitary gland is to secrete hormones and maintain homeostasis, etc.

    You can't even talk about biology without invoking scholasticism, in every sentence.

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  72. @troy:

    How about you give a single example of an insight into biology that did not invoke intelligible principles (scholastic definition of 'form') and purposes (scholastic 'teleology').

    Give me one biological insight without invoking intelligibility and purpose.

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  73. Michael:

    "How about you give a single example of an insight into biology due to the scholastic approach that would not have been achieved otherwise?]

    The 'scholastic approach' to science-- the application of Aristotelian hylemorphism to the study of nature-- is the indispensable basis for all modern science. The word 'science' itself is anglicized 'scientia', the scholastic latin for knowledge, derived from Aristotle's 'episteme'. The Arisotelian-Scholastic study of nature remains the only system for studying nature to have produced genuine theoretical science."

    Typical. I asked for a single example of how scholastics might offer some insight into biology, and all I get is some vague generalities. And, um, "scientia" is not "scholastic" latin, it's just latin. I studied latin in highschool.

    So I ask again: please give me a single example of how the scholastic approach to biology gives insights that other approaches do not offer.

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  74. Egnor:

    "Give me one biological insight without invoking intelligibility and purpose."

    Evolution by natural selection.

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  75. @troy
    "Evolution by natural selection"
    Forgive this layman a simple observation, but doesn't this theory (in it's modern form) rely heavily on genetics?
    If so, how on earth can you deny function and purpose within it. In fact it seems to these eyes that it RELIES on it; that teleology was/is FOUNDATIONAL in Evolutionary biology.
    Darwin's book is, after all, called 'The Origin of Species' not 'the random and meaningless progression of living things from one form to another'.
    Am I off base here?

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  76. @oleg:

    [I actually don't consign myself to being "a calculator." Introduction of new concepts is also on my to-do list. And yes, I do look for a deeper understanding of Nature.]

    Scholastic 'form' is defined as the intelligible principle embodied in nature. When you look for new concepts and a deeper understanding of nature, you are seeking a deeper understanding of Aristotelian form.

    You just don't have the requisite literacy in philosophy to fully understand what you're doing.

    [It's just that teleology is not particularly helpful in that.]

    Teleology is essential to any quest for insight into nature. Teleology is the principle of consistency in nature.

    [Reproducibility has nothing to do with teleology.]

    Reproducibility is teleology.

    [Jupiter keeps rotating around the Sun, but that is a mindless repetitive motion whose description does not require knowing any intelligent goals of some imaginary beings.]

    Jupiter's rotation is obvious teleology. Whether teleology implies an Intelligence that guides nature is a matter for debate. Aquinas thought so (th Fifth Way), other very smart people have argued not.

    That teleology exists is not debatable. Its origin and implications can be debated.

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  77. @troy:

    ["Give me one biological insight without invoking intelligibility and purpose."

    Evolution by natural selection.]

    So you admit that natural selection is unintelligible?

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  78. @troy:

    ["Give me one biological insight without invoking intelligibility and purpose."

    Evolution by natural selection.]

    Regarding 'purpose', how can you invoke the selective advantage provided by the stronger beaks of Grants' finches in the Galapagos without invoking 'purpose'?

    If the stronger beaks served no purpose, how could they have helped survival during famine?

    I don't mean 'God's purpose', but rather purpose understood in teleological terms.

    You can't even talk about biology without invoking teleology in some fashion.

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  79. @troy:

    [So I ask again: please give me a single example of how the scholastic approach to biology gives insights that other approaches do not offer.]

    All 'approaches' to biology in modern science have come out of scholasticism.

    There are many cultures-- various African, Chinese, Native American, Western. Only one culture gave rise to modern science (Western), and it did so as a product of scholasticism.

    Describe one 'approach' to science that emerged from a non-scholastic history.

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  80. Egnor:

    Scholastic 'form' is defined as the intelligible principle embodied in nature. When you look for new concepts and a deeper understanding of nature, you are seeking a deeper understanding of Aristotelian form.

    You just don't have the requisite literacy in philosophy to fully understand what you're doing.


    If scientists can do their job without invoking scholastic mumbo-jumbo, too bad for scholasticism. :)

    Teleology is essential to any quest for insight into nature. Teleology is the principle of consistency in nature.

    You seem to be using your own, private definition of teleology.

    Jupiter's rotation is obvious teleology.

    To make such a claim you have to demonstrate that Jupiter's presence in the solar system has a purpose. You don't know that for sure and at present you have no way of finding out.

    That teleology exists is not debatable.

    Again, you seem to be using your own, unorthodox definition of teleology. What is it, exactly?

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  81. @oleg:

    [If scientists can do their job without invoking scholastic mumbo-jumbo, too bad for scholasticism. :)]

    Young children can speak coherent sentences without knowing rules of grammar. That doesn't mean that grammar is unimportant.

    [Again, you seem to be using your own, unorthodox definition of teleology. What is it, exactly?]

    I'm using the definition of teleology used by Aristotle and Aquinas. Teleology is the tendency for things in nature to act toward a goal. It does not mean that the thing is sentient. It merely means that when things change, they do so in ways that can (often) be predicted. Change is directional.

    Jupiter's rotation is teleological in that it is an ellipse, proceeds at a certain velocity, etc.

    Non-teleological rotation would be continuously random patterns, random changes in velocity, explosion and reformation of the planet at unpredictable times.

    Teleology refers to the 'lawfulness' of nature.

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  82. Egnor: Young children can speak coherent sentences without knowing rules of grammar. That doesn't mean that grammar is unimportant.

    Grammar is secondary to language. It is merely a set of kludgy rules invented by linguists to describe some average speaker. Language changes and grammar follows.

    This analogy would be apt for science (language) and philosophy of science (linguistics). Just as linguists do not invent the language but merely study, philosophers of science do not influence science but merely study how it works.

    As to scholasticism, it can be compared to a constructed language that has since died. Like Klingon. Hardly anyone speaks it and there is hardly any point in doing so.

    I'm using the definition of teleology used by Aristotle and Aquinas. Teleology is the tendency for things in nature to act toward a goal.

    You are mistaken. Teleology is not "the tendency for things to act toward a goal." It is a mode of explaining things by referring to possibly all four causal factors, the formal, efficient, material, and final causes. Possibly. Even Aristotle thought that some phenomena have no final cause, for example, lunar eclipses. The earth merely happens to come between the sun and the moon. That is the efficient cause of the eclipse. There is, however, no final cause. You, Mike, are trying to be more Aristotelean than Aristotle himself. He did not insist on always having a final cause, just on looking for one where it does exist.

    Jupiter's rotation is teleological in that it is an ellipse, proceeds at a certain velocity, etc.

    As should be clear from above, this has nothing to do with final causes. At least according to Aristotle.

    Non-teleological rotation would be continuously random patterns, random changes in velocity, explosion and reformation of the planet at unpredictable times.

    Again, chaotic behavior (unpredictability) is not opposite to the potential existence of a final cause (teleological explanation). These are categories that live far apart. Don't mix them.

    Teleology refers to the 'lawfulness' of nature.

    No, it does not. See above.

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  83. Olegt:
    "This is beside the point. A physics student can learn a variety of subjects outside of his or her discipline. Mathematics would certainly be one of them and I gave a couple of examples illustrating that. Scholastics is not one of them. I am aware of no examples where scholastic thought was essential to the progress of physics.

    This is a simple point that you just can't deny. "

    I disagree. Scholasticism as a logical and philosophical system is something that anyone can learn outside of his or her discipline and it is something that can be beneficial to a system outside its own domain.

    If a person wants to solve mathematical problems related to physics, then of course mathematics will be useful. If a person wants to try and understand causality and how it can be related to physics e.g. then of course philosophy is important. And the Scholastic view of causality and the principle of causality are again relevant here and for those who are interested in understanding causality in physics, Scholasticism will be beneficial.

    Physics has mathematical problems as well as philosophical problems. You won't use a mathematical system to solve a philosophical problem and you won't use a philosophical system to solve a mathematical problem. So it should be obvious how mathematics can be beneficial to physics' mathematical problems and how a philosophical system can be beneficial to physics' philosophical problems etc. The same goes for mathematics' philosophy problems. And Scholasticism can definitely be beneficial in both these areas as explained above.

    troy:
    How about you give a single example of an insight into biology due to the scholastic approach that would not have been achieved otherwise?

    The species problem:
    http://telicthoughts.com/philosophy-and-metaphysics-interlude-7-the-species-problem-and-a-scholastic-approach/

    Evolution without natural selection: http://telicthoughts.com/cancer-evolution-ditching-natural-selection-for-aristotles-four-causes-and-hylemorphism/

    Moderate realism in gene ontologies.
    http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/courses09/1_Aristotle.ppt

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  84. Olegt, teleology can be summarized as "every agent acts for an end".

    So what is the final cause or natural end of Jupiter having a certain velocity around the sun.

    An elliptical rotation.

    And what is the final cause or natural end of an object like the moon coming in front of the son?
    A shadow on some part of the earth. Some call it an eclipse. A lunar eclipse is a description of the interaction of various causes. It is not an agent itself so it won't have a final cause, it is merely descriptive.

    You are right though, agents can act for ends and it may appear chaotic and even unpredictable. It just means that not all agents act to the same end.

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